It’s funny because we’re all embarrassed to talk about our bowel habits, even though we ALL HAVE THEM! Actually, I always make my patients feel comfortable about discussing bowel habits by telling them –
I’m a dietitian. It’s our job to talk about poop!
Constipation is a problem for many people. Especially cancer survivors who are on pain meds, or have had a surgery, or treatments that affect the GI tract. I had some not fun bathroom moments after giving birth that made me empathize a lot with my patients! Prior to my personal experience, I had no idea what my patients were going through. I would give them the advice I learned in school and from medical education, but until I experienced it myself, I really had no idea!
Since this is such a common issue for people, I thought I would answer the question with some easy, practical suggestions. These are the things that I found to work for me and are also the things that I know to be the best strategy nutritionally.
First, we need to answer the question…
What is “normal”?
There are a lot of opinions regarding what’s “normal” when it comes to bowel habits. Remember, every body is different! Normal frequency can be anywhere from 3 bowel movements a day to 3 a week. If you aren’t straining when you pass stool, then your bowel habits are likely fine.
However, if you notice a change in your bowel habits, be sure to let your medical team know. A change in bowel habits may indicate a problem that needs to be checked out. And for people undergoing cancer treatment I highly recommend keeping a log of your bowel movements so that you are aware as soon as it becomes longer than normal since your last bowel movement. Early intervention is key in managing constipation!
What Can You Do to Keep Bowel Movements “Normal”?
The key to bowel movements is to have enough bulk to stimulate your GI tract to move the stool through.
Did you know that the recommended grams of daily fiber for optimal health is 21g – 38g?
The problem is that the amount of daily fiber the average American gets, (according to a USDA survey) is 16g.
SOoooo…. if your body needs between 21g – 38g and you give it 16g… what can we expect? Certainly, there’s more to it than just fiber, but that is an important place to look.
Here is an example of what 25 gm of dietary fiber looks like: Note this example uses all “whole grain” or bran products.
Not managed with diet?
- Sometimes you’re doing all you can, but it still isn’t working. Or you’re not in a place in your life that you can do everything on the list.
- If you are following the recommendations for bowel management and still don’t have regular bowel movements, try using a psyllium husk powder daily. Konsyl is a brand I use that offers psyllium husk fiber with no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Yes, it’s gritty. but guess what? It works! When I need it, I mix it in about 6 oz. of orange juice, take it down as fast as possible and chase it with 2 big glasses of water. If you use a fiber supplement be sure to DRINK ENOUGH WATER WITH IT. If not… you’re adding fuel to the fire.
- If you have no bowel movement for 3 days, ask your medical team about using a laxative as part of your bowel management regimen.